Monday, July 23, 2012

5 Recipe-Countdown to the 2012 Olympics

In honor of the Olympic Games, Natural Sugar will be posting some of the easiest world recipes as part of the countdown to the opening ceremony this Friday in London!  Stay tuned the rest of the week for some approachable and impressive ideas.

Every two years, my family practically dies of anticipation for the Olympics!    WE.  LOVE.  IT!    We have a jolly good time watching the spectacle of music, art, light, sound and everything in between.  Not to mention, seeing each country’s athletes march around the stadium.  In my family, it’s frowned upon to only vote for one country.  So, we cheer many of them on.  Outside of the U.S., I cheer the most for my friends’ home countries like France, Finland, Great Britain, Turkey, Senegal and many more.  Good luck to everyone and may the games of 2012 be prosperous and fun and a showcase of the paramount competitors that our world has to offer.

Now, could it really be a party without delicious food?  I didn’t think so.  So, over the next few days, I will present some of my EASIEST and favorite dishes from around the world.  On Friday night, we’ll be having a small get-together to watch the opening ceremony and you better believe we’ll be eating well!  I hope you enjoy the games as much as I will!

5.  Kir   [France]

Our countdown begins with homage to France.  When I studied abroad in Albi, France, I found a beautiful, quaint restaurant called Le Castel.  I ate there on a regular basis with my French and international friends and even showed some paintings on Le Castel’s walls.  Every meal started with Kir (pronounced k-eer), which is an incredibly simple aperitif.  With only 2 ingredients, you can’t go wrong.  It’s sweet and light and a great way to start any evening, especially that of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony.  Bon chance, la France!

1 oz. Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur)
White Wine

*Other fruit liqueurs will work just fine.  

Fill your wine glass with Crème de Cassis and top it off with white wine.  It can’t get much easier than that!  Profitez-bien!

4.  Simple Finnish Voileipä   [Finland]

My friend Alla introduced me to this simple and tasty snack when I visited her in Finland several years ago.  Our days were so relaxed and calm, I wish I could vacation in Finland all the time.   Almost every morning started with this open-faced cucumber sandwich, called Voileipä (translates to ‘buttered bread’).  Don’t ask me how to pronounce it – you know what happened last time I tried speaking Finnish!  Sometimes Voileipä has hardboiled eggs, meats, fish and various vegetables.  This version is easy – just bread, cheese and veggies.

Crunchy, yet juicy and fresh, Voileipä will please all your taste buds.  Make it for breakfast, lunch or an appetizer for your Olympic opening ceremony viewing, like I am.  Good luck Finland!

Dark bread, like Rye or Pumpernickel
Butter, for buttering
Munster cheese, very thinly sliced
Cucumber, sliced
Tomato, sliced
Salt & Pepper

Toast a slice of good, dark bread in the toaster or oven.  When it’s warm and has a perfect crunch, butter it.  Place the slice of Munster cheese on top.  Add the cucumber and tomato and season with salt and pepper. 

3.  Pasties   [England]

Sorry, England, but you’re just not known for your food.  It’s the sad, but fair truth.  Despite its melting pot reputation, Great Britain boasts relatively few culinary delicacies that do not include words like “kidney,” “liver” or “pudding.”  But, years ago on a post-high school whirlwind tour of Europe (where we visited 17 countries in 10 days), I discovered something quite delicious right in the heart of Piccadilly Circus, in London. 

It was a rainy and cold afternoon and I was starving.  Then, out of the mist appeared a godsend – a walk-up shop selling warm, hearty and flaky Cornish Pasties.  They were so amazing that I even tracked them down 3 years later when I returned to London and I scarfed down several more. 

Somewhere between a calzone and an empanada, these Pasties have a warm savory filling and a buttery pastry crust.  My favorites are usually filled with beef, onion, potatoes and a strong cheese.  This is my attempt at recreating one of England’s simple delicacies just in time for the opening ceremony in London! 

Pie Crust (I’m still using Ree Drummond’s recipe, but store-bought is fine)
Beef, sliced really thin
Salt & Pepper
1 onion, chopped into slivers
2-3 small potatoes, peeled and diced
1/3 C. Cheddar cheese
¼ C. Horseradish White Cheddar (any cheese is fine – Stilton would be great!)
¼ C. Milk, plus more for brushing

*Pasties are meant to be eaten ‘on the go.’  I’ve seen some fancy ones, but I prefer the rustic look because you can actually see what’s in them. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Season the beef with some salt and pepper.  Then, in a large skillet, sauté the beef in 1 T. olive oil until it turns brown, but is not completely cooked.  Remove and let it rest.   Add the onions and the potatoes to the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Cook them until they are golden brown and have started to caramelize.  Add the meat back into the dish with the cheeses and milk.  Thoroughly combine.  Turn off the heat and set aside. 

On a floured board, roll out the piecrust to ¼” thick.  Cut it into squares that are 5” x 5.”  Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray and arrange the dough with at least an inch in between each pasty.  Place a healthy spoonful of the meat mixture on each piecrust.  Fold up the edges so you have a little package and brush them with a little milk so they come out golden brown.  Bake in the oven about 15-20 minutes until the piecrust has baked completely.  

2.  Torreja   [Mexico]

When I was little, I spent several summer vacations in Mexico with my family.  My clearest memory of them, ironically enough, is of food.  Each morning, we would have breakfast right on the beach as the sun rose.  I always chose Torreja (or French toast) despite being in Mexico.   I guess I was a 'Frenchy' at heart even when I was young.  This, along with freshly squeezed orange juice made for a perfect start to each day

What makes this version of French toast different is that after it’s cooked, it’s covered in cinnamon sugar, almost like a churro.  The sugar adds a satisfying texture that I haven’t found elsewhere.  This Torreja is sweet and buttery and finished with a delicate crunch. 

1 loaf of good, sweet bread (regular loaf bread will work too)
2 eggs
1/3 C. Milk
1 t. Cinnamon, plus more for dowsing
¼ C. Sugar
Syrup or fresh fruit, if desired. 

Slice the bread into 1" slices.  Thick slices are better, especially when you can find brioche.  I had trouble finding it this time, so I used regular loaf bread, which works fine too.  

In a bowl, beat together the milk and eggs.  Add 1 T. of cinnamon and 1 t. of vanilla.  Wisk to combine.  In a separate shallow dish, combine sugar and 1 T. cinnamon.  Set aside.

Melt butter in a non-stick skillet.  Dip each slice of bread in the egg mixture on both sides.  Place it in the skillet carefully and let it cook until golden brown.  Remove the bread from the pan and drop it in the cinnamon sugar until it's completely covered.  Serve with syrup or fresh fruit.  

1.  American Sliders with Chipotle Aioli   [USA]

It took me a long time to decide which recipe to put down for the United States.  Finally, with the help of Sean and my mom, I decided on sliders.  These days, hamburgers are ubiquitous throughout the world, but sliders have not yet completely escaped the U.S. border.  They are considered finger food, and they’re easy to eat ‘in front of the game.’  So, I thought they’d be a good recipe to feature here, for the Olympic Games. 

My Chipotle Sliders have southwestern flair.  They are sweet and spicy and smoky and pair well with Hawaiian sweet bread.  Adorned with chipotle aioli, they’re a great alternative to the cliché hamburger.  Go Team USA!  Let the games begin!

1 lb. ground beef
1-1 1/2 Chipotle pepper(s), finely diced
1/2 t. Worcester sauce
1 Egg
¼ C. Panko or bread crumbs
¼ C. Parmesan
1 T. cilantro

1/2 C. mayonnaise
1 small chipotle pepper, finely diced
1 T. honey

12 Hawaiian Sweet Dinner Rolls, sliced laterally

In a large bowl, combine the beef, chipotle, Worcester, egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan and cilantro.  Allow this mixture to rest in the refrigerator at least an hour, so the flavors can marry. 

For the aioli, combine the mayonnaise, chipotle & honey in a small bowl.  Set the bowl in the refrigerator until your are ready to eat. 

Turn the oven onto broil or 500 degrees. 

Then, form the meat mixture into small, flat patties about 2" wide with an indentation in the center.  **They will puff up when they cook, so it’s important to make them flat unless you want meatballs instead of sliders.**  Place each patty onto a sheet pan and bake about 7 minutes or until cooked through, flipping the patties once. 

When the patties have cooked through, place one patty on each Hawaiian roll.  Top with chipotle aioli and replace the top of the roll.  Serve warm.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tres Leches Cupcakes

A few weeks ago, two of Sean’s very good friends got married!  We had been invited to their engagement party, but it turned out to be their wedding reception!  It was a fun surprise and I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen two people who are more in love and made for one another.  We hope they have a happy life together and that their love will continue to grow forever and always.  

The engagement party-turned-wedding reception was catered by the bride’s mom and it was absolutely fabulous.  She is originally from Honduras, so we had pulled pork, black rice and beans, enchiladas and an oyster bar!  Sean and I were so impressed by the delicious food that we attempted to recreate the pulled pork at home.  We made two batches and the entire house was filled with the fragrant aroma of slow cooked pork, orange and garlic.  Although we still have some perfecting to do, our meal was scrumptious. 

It got me thinking.  What would be an appropriate finish to our Latin feast?  My brain swirled around fried plantains and ice cream, and flan, and finally rested on Tres Leches Cupcakes.  I’ve made Tres Leches Cake several times before and I’ve always found it to be incredibly satisfying. 

These Tres Leches Cupcakes are just as enchanting.  Small chilled cakes, dowsed in a sweet cinnamon cream and served with whipped cream frosting – what’s not to like after a spicy and dynamic main course?

1 white or yellow cake mix and the ingredients it requires*
¼ C. sweetened condensed milk
¾ C. whole milk
½ t. cinnamon
1 pint of whipping cream + 2 T. of sugar
White chocolate, for garnish

*I haven’t mastered baking yet, so I take advantage of store-bought help – why not?

Bake the cupcakes according to the mix’s instructions.  Allow them to cool completely. 

While the cupcakes are baking, mix together the two kinds of milk in a small bowl.  Set in the refrigerator to chill. 

In a large bowl, beat the whipping cream until soft peaks form.  Add the sugar and whip until very stiff peaks form – you’ll want them to be stiff so that they can stand up on the cupcakes.  Set the whipped cream in the fridge to keep it cool. 

When the cupcakes have cooled, take a spoon and scoop out a small portion of the cake’s top.  Gently spoon some of the milk mixture into the cupcake and allow it to soak in.  Place the top back on the cupcake.  **I have experimented with poking holes in the cake, which is normally how I’ll make Tres Leches sheet cake.  However, the milk mixture tends to drip right down the sides, instead of soaking in.  So, for the cupcakes which are more delicate and visible from all sides, I use the scoop technique (a very technical term) ** 

Pipe the whipped cream on top of the cupcakes and sprinkle with cinnamon, for that finished look.  If you desire, garnish your cupcakes with berries and white chocolate designs for an elegant touch.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Harley's Italian Bistro

Recently, my friend Kelsey, and Sean and I went to a brilliant Italian restaurant called Harley’s Italian Bistro.  We had a great dinner before visiting several art galleries for First Friday.  The restaurant was quaint and comfortable with bold colors and uhhhh-mazing food!  The servers and owners are friendly and welcoming and provide a fabulous dining experience.  I particularly liked the mason jars full of fresh herbs throughout the restaurant that gave the decor a charming, 'home-grown' touch.  

For dinner, I ordered bowtie pasta with disks of sweet Italian sausage, topped with mushrooms, onion and red peppers drenched in a luscious and creamy Gorgonzola vodka sauce.  The sausage had great flavor, the veggies were fresh and wonderfully caramelized.  And the sauce was so heavenly that I've actually dreamt about it since tasting it.  Light and rich at the same time, and so completely infused with Gorgonzola, I couldn't have asked for anything more!

I loved it so much, I convinced Sean to take me again this weekend.  This time, we went for Sunday Brunch.  We had bottomless mimosas, a unique and scrumptious breakfast pizza and an Italian sformato, or tart, with brie, spinach and prosciutto.  We even ordered dessert!  I don't think I've ever ordered dessert after breakfast, but I'm going to do it all the time now.  I had been promised that Harley's version of Tiramisu was incomparable, and I have to say, it was pretty damn good!  I'd have another slice right now if I could.  

Harley's Italian Bistro is owned by three friends and they do a great job of creating a beautiful atmosphere, with truly impressive Italian food.  I thoroughly enjoyed both of our meals and experiences here and I’m dying to go back!  It might become our weekly remedy.  You’ll have to try this Italian gem for yourself and let us know what you think! 

Harley's Italian Bistro
4211 N. 7th Ave
Phoenix, AZ 85013

(602) 243-0333

Restaurant Recommendations :: RR

I’m going to start posting restaurant recommendations on Natural Sugar.  So, get ready for some delicious and impressive field trips to my favorite Phoenix restaurants.  You may want to save a bit of extra money for these adventures, but don't worry.  I'll make sure you're spending it in the right places.  My goal is to introduce you to a number of fantastic, interesting restaurants so that you will no longer have to spend hours online just to choose a place for dinner.  

I don’t much care for the über critical reviews I’ve been reading lately, so I thought I’d do my best to inject a bit of positivity into the food world by means of the blog.  I used to be a big snob (about everything, food included) and although I still appreciate a perfect dining experience, let’s be honest.  Perfection is hard to come by. 

So, I will begin recommending restaurants where I would be proud to share a meal with you and where I know you'll be pleased to eat!  The service might not be impeccable; the décor might not be très chic.  You might even see the bottom of your glass once in awhile.  But, by george, they will be places where you’ll enjoy delicious food, a good atmosphere and they will be restaurants I would return to in a heart beat!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

I think we sometimes overlook the little things in life and take for granted what is so normal to us.  Things that other places in the world can only dream about.  I’m proud and happy to live in the U.S. and sometimes I forget to stop and remember just how important it is to be grateful.  Thank you to all the men and women who put their lives on the line each day to make sure we are safe and can enjoy our American lifestyle. 

The fourth of July was just about perfect this year!  I woke up on Wednesday morning to beautiful, cloudy skies – a welcome treat in Phoenix, AZ.  The desert had been cooled to a reasonable and pleasant temperature.  So, I made biscuits and my family and I ate them outside on the patio, enjoying the garden and reading some new books.  The overcast lighting seemed too perfect to pass by, so Sean selflessly let me take pictures of him for a new painting – they turned out great!  We took some adorable family shots too. 

Almost a moment after I snapped the last handsome picture, it began to rain.  Normally, we would have been upset by this on the Fourth of July, but today it was just fine.  We took a drive together and laughed over assembling new windshield wipers, which don’t get much use here in Arizona – all the while getting soaked in the rain. 

When we returned home, we had some margaritas by the pool, as the rain had begun to let up.  By dinnertime, the clouds had completely subsided and bright blue skies made barbequing possible.  With classic American songs in the background, we munched on hamburgers, deviled eggs, coleslaw, potato salad, chips and dip, guacamole, baked beans and even tomato aspic. Dessert was truly patriotic – shortcake with white whipped cream, red strawberries and blue blueberries.  It was a real feast and I hardly cooked a thing!  It was an easy and mostly store-bought summer BBQ. 

Once we were securely in our food comas, we watched the fireworks, broadcast from D.C. and N.Y.  I couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing and happy mid-week respite and Fourth of July.

.        .        .        .

Today’s recipe is hardly a recipe.  But, even a cook sometimes needs a break from laboring in the kitchen – especially when the holiday is in the middle of the week! 

Shortcake with Whipped Cream and Fresh Berries

Whipping cream + 2 T. Sugar

Whip the cream until soft peaks form and slowly sprinkle in the sugar, whipping until it is completely combined and stiff peaks have formed.  Arrange each shortcake on your plate and top with whipped cream.  Garnish with fresh berries.  It’s that simple.